Glorious Silverstone

When under Bernie Ecclestone’s fiefdom Formula One (F1) did exactly what he wanted. Now Liberty Media have taken over with the intention of even grosser global billing for F1. But a cold, wet, drab racing circuit in Northamptonshire, England seem to have provoked them, with Liberty Media trying to sound almost trump-like with outraged faux-innocence that a “deals a deal”, even if it wasn’t done with them.

It seems like other race circuits around the world get financial support to host the smart, glossy world that is F1. While the British Grand Prix resolutely loses money every year. Now in a bit of negotiation lifted from other high spending sports like football, the small upstart has announced they would like to re-negotiate the deal. In a bit of machiavellian mischief they actually managed to time this at an opportune moment. Directly before this year’s F1 British Grand Prix, and while Liberty Media themselves were courting yet-again the idea of holding a grand prix around the streets of London.

Q: Is a Grand Prix around London an entertaining concept that will attract hordes of visitors: Yes.

Q: Will it happen: No.

Even better, while the entire F1 circus turned up to trumpet the idea with a day in London, Lewis Hamilton was missing. Giving a valid excuse, much like the old “I can’t do PE, here’s a note from my mum” Lewis claimed he was getting prepared for the race. It would be far too slick and un-English to imagine that this could possibly be a slight to the concept and tacit support for the British Grand Prix continuing at Silverstone, a circuit with such a racing history long admired by true racers such as Lewis Hamilton.

And then, even better than that, Lewis Hamilton started in pole position and thrashed the others to win this premium brand event, and just about catch up to Vettel who is currently leading the championship. Blimey, I never knew we could pull off a show like that. We’re well worth the money! Liberty Media give in now, charge us threepence for the race and be done with it.

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Two hours and…not done

Something quite remarkable happened at the weekend, a Kenyan runner nearly broke 2 hours to run a full marathon. That’s taking 4 minutes and 35 seconds to run one mile. Mile after mile. For 26 miles. It was only in 1954 that the 4 minute mile barrier was broken, and that was just for one single mile, not 26+ miles. That’s running at about 15 miles per hour, or about the same as running the 100 metres in 17 seconds, x422 times!

This amazing athletic feat saw Eliud Kipchoge clock 2 hours and 25 seconds for this marathon attempt. For much of the time he was on pace to attain the 2 hour target, but the later laps saw the strain take its toll. While missing the target, Eliud did break the current world record for the marathon, which is held by a fellow Kenyan, Dennis Kimetto, of 2 hours 2 minutes and 57 seconds, set at the Berlin Marathon back in 2014. The other runners, the Eritrean Zersenay Tadese, who is the current world-record holder for the half-marathon, and Lelisa Desisa, from Ethiopia, two-times winner of the Boston marathon, also both finished, in the finest tradition of athletes, with a true epic effort to continue, despite knowing they were well outside the record attempt, the older Tadese at 2:06 and younger Desira at 2.14.

The slightly controversial part was that this attempt was run by Nike, with its Breaking2 programme. For this they ran early morning with repeated laps of the Monza racing circuit. The three runners had a phalanx of other elite runners as their vanguard, sheltering them as well as acting as pacemakers, as well as car beaming a green line to show the target pace, and were re-fuelled by moped riders. Because of these factors this record attempt was not recognised for any official record by the sporting authorities. Nike was also promoting its  restricted (up to now) new Zoom Vaporfly Elite shoes, which use a special carbon-fibre plate in the soles to make runners 4% more efficient than Nike’s previous fastest marathon shoe, boosting their running economy.

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Eliud Kipchoge (in red) going for the 2 hour marathon record

 

But regardless of the corporate PR spin the actual running feat is truly impressive. So maybe it was outside 2 hours, but you know what, they did just do it.

Cycle-less in Seattle

The recent failure of the bicycle hire scheme in Seattle has highlighted the issues of what defines a successful scheme, once seen as the de rigueur approach for mayors in the big cities following New York, London and Paris.

So what exactly do these schemes do? The vision seems to be one of reducing traffic jams, creating a greener city, and helping support a population with better health. However. what seems a simple proposition at the individual level, takes on added complexity and cost when ramped up to a large city scale. Bikes themselves aren’t that low cost, they need maintenance, they need replacing when they get lost, stolen or misused, they need moving around to fit patterns of use, and they need a simple system to use them which can be complex behind the scenes. Plus if it all goes wrong, people are then put off and become reluctant to use the scheme again.

While there has been a “me-too” adoption of such schemes by major cities, some seem to be a success, others like Seattle seem to fail. So is the concept flawed? At first view you might expect that anyone who wants to cycle will already have their own cycle, and that these cyclists might demand things like secure bike parks and safer roads, which are cycle-friendly, rather than cycle hire, especially as these cycles seem to of the “heavier and slower” variety.

Alternatively, “novice” cyclists will be more reliant on dedicated leisure routes, well away from negotiating city-centre traffic, to be safe and enjoy their ride. It’s no use just having stacks of cycle and no safe routes to ride them, so a cycle hire scheme needs to include some degree of supporting infrastructure. And it seems that it is this wide variety: of users, of needs, that make a successful cycle hire scheme so difficult to achieve. 

The other issue on assessing such schemes is that they can be hard to measure, how do you measure the impact of improved health and enjoyment? So are such schemes mere planning indulgences and wasted taxpayers money?

Any cultural social change requires high investment, similar changes in behaviour have required massive investment and financial support, such as renewable energy schemes, and currently investment in electric cars and driverless schemes. To make these step-changes in behaviour requires considerable investment, probably over a longer period of time than many “sponsors” (of cycle hire schemes) realise with their two or three-year funding platforms. So when the funding stops, or is considerably reduced, the scheme collapses. That doesn’t equate to it not being a success though!

No-one wants full cycle racks and few users, maybe for some the numbers just don’t add up and aren’t sustainable, and while low tech does not equal low costs, there are exemplary models of successful schemes. And besides in Europe, we have Centre Parcs, who for many years have provided a cycle hire scheme at their leisure holiday parks, they seem to make it a success. And you don’t need to wear a helmet.

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Capsize!

Canoeist on his own
River Wye, England/Wales

Somehow one thinks of solitude as being a state that one consents to enter into. The quiet time for reflection, or the need to be alone for some introspection. But sometimes life just throws itself around you and you find yourself in a situation that would be so much better if you were not alone or in Solitude.

Just a note for sensitive souls: Other paddlers did help out and all was well.

You can’t parkour around here mate

Parkour has just been recognised as a sport by the UK sports council. For the development of this sport, also known as freerunning, this is good news as it now allows it to attract government grants and National Lottery funding.

Often perceived as being a high-risk activity in an urban environment, it was interesting listening to Sébastien Foucan in a recent radio interview. He’s a spokesperson for the sport but probably more recognised as the stunt man who did the audacious roof top chase in the James Bond film “Casino Royale”. He eloquently talked about it not being restricted to a “built environment” (i.e. urban) but about being a non-competitive discipline in public spaces. It was revealing and inspiring to hear him describe the need to respect the environment and that you could do the sport while “staying on the ground”. In response to the view that it wasn’t a sport, Sébastien stated they could measure and assess participants, as there were defined techniques and levels of progression. Adding that it was similar to gymnastics, you needed to respect the levels and not take risks by attempting something well outside your progression. I’m making him sound a bit dull, on radio he was enthusiastic and positive.

Why bother? I think it might be the simple attraction of being a big kid again, enjoying the freedom of running around outside, and the simple joys that came from doing things just because you could, like climbing trees and the fun of jumping off low walls and park benches, now being carried through to a bigger playground. Here’s an inspiring free running story.

There could be a downside, the trouble with being a recognised activity is that it can then become too elitist and competitive. While not a recognised “sport”,  Urban Exploration, or Urbex seems to have splintered into various factions, which does seem to be more prone to macho posturing, especially for social media. Mind you both Parkour and Urbex would look pretty spectacular as an Olympic Sport and far more an intrinsic challenge then many of the soi-disant Olympic Sports!

Ice, ice…

Just been to the first public icebike event, full of new cycle technology. It was cool to have a look at some of the trends and see some new products. As well as the brand-new products and cycle-related stuff (Go-Pros, Garmins etc) there were a couple of nifty stands like the bike fitting one.

As it had been a trade only event, now open to the public at the weekend, it was a good bit low-key and less frantic that a lot of the public bike fairs. Well, all except the sale area which of course was jam packed full of bargain hunters!

It’s a sign of the times that there were numerous café bars, including a coffee stand manned by Thule – who knew! My favourite was Mule bars which is veggie friendly (some are vegan) and in a range of trendy flavours. Hopefully all good for you, and made in the UK. Of course we drove there – oh no did I just say that!

Gym Bunny

So its that time of the year when “new year resolutions” get made. For many that message is “get fit, be healthier” and one big way is to join the gym.

That’s the easy bit over with. Joining the gym! As long as you afford the expense.

Then the kit buying, that occupies time and more expense.

Then the routine. Most gyms despite all the high tech are quite crap. A repetitive machine and mirrors, lots of mirrors. And as everyone else had the same new year resolution as you, and most seem to have office jobs just like you, they’re busy when you get there. Busy and Boring. Um.

When its winter its too dark to go out early mornings and its too dark and cold to go later in the evening. Suddenly that new year resolution looks shaky. Much better and easier to just get a hobby and get a routine. Go for a run, go for a swim, go for a cycle. Go for a walk. Less expensive than a gym and probably a whole lot better. Maybe a resolution for next year!

Who would want to be a coach?

After England didn’t win the Rugby World Cup, that they hosted, the head coach Stuart Lancaster took the blame and was ousted.

Now Eddie Jones has been appointed. While it was clear Lancaster was going to be the brunt of the lack of success as a coach he had been lauded before the World Cup, much like the new man, Eddie Jones is being. Will he do the trick and help England onto a winning path? On paper it looks encouraging. But the odds are stacked high, only one team can be the best in the world, only one team can win a tournament. So where does that leave all the rest?

Where’s the sail?

The world’s largest SuperYacht has been announced. Its pretty massive and really is it a yacht? It looks just like a massive boat.

The old joke is that if you step down and it moves its a boat. If you step up and it doesn’t move, its a yacht. While yachts are seen as luxury recreational boats, they can be sail or motor (mostly both). But in some ways you expect a yacht to be able to sail. Superyachts are mammoths of the sea and are privately owned but professionally crewed. Still you’d expect them to be able to sail it every now and again.

The Welsh Beach Boys are Surfin USA

It sounds like an April the first spoof. An artificial surf lagoon has been built in Wales. So you can go surfin in Wales without hitting the beach or the sea!

Built on the site of an old aluminium works on the edge of the Snowdonia National Park in Conwy valley in North Wales it provides newbies with the chance to learn without endless trashing, as well as offering a consistent wave (it can be changed) that can suit all types.

Given the vagaries of the weather and surf, and with added attractions like warm changing rooms, it could be a winner at this new outdoor enthusiast attraction. Mind you it will have to work – they have already had to close it and drain the 6 million gallons of water to fix a fault since it opened on 1st August – Dunno what the fault was, maybe sharks in the water?

Of course they will need to recoupt their costs of such a monumental structure – some £12M…maybe surfers will expect sunshine as well but come on this is wales after all!